Solar on our 2014 Airstream Flying Cloud, 27ft.
After much discussion and contemplation, we decided to go with “solar help”. It all started last summer when we were in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Moraine Campground - far from our first visit. As in previous visits, we spent our evenings with headlamps on and a solar lantern for our nightly games of cards and Scrabble. We have always gotten by for the maximum 7 days that are permitted in the park, but we had to watch every “electrical move”.
Last summer (2019) we noticed more and more RVers were using solar panels to augment their electrical systems. OK… I know, all the years of backpacking we got by with a flashlight or candle lantern. We still do that occasionally, but the lure of creature comforts has pulled us into its arms in our senior years.
How much charging power do we need? Solar roof panels or portable. Cost is always a question. What will solar power? We got opinions and guidance from friends, the internet, and dealers. (Colonial Airstream, where we purchased our Airstream, was particularly helpful.)
Here are some of my take-a-ways. 1. If you want to power your TV, microwave oven, stereo and air conditioner, you will need a generator or go to a campground that has 30 or 50 amp service. 2. If you want to use your inverter wall outlets (120 volts) to charge phones, computers, etc., or power small appliances, you will be draining your battery power rather quickly. This is a good time to consider having solar power. 3. Note to newbies - remember that you have 2 kinds of electric power in your Airstream - 12 volt
and 120 volt. Easy to remember… when you are at a campground and hooked up to shore power, all your electrical needs are met, including stereo, TV, microwave, air conditioner, etc. When you are on the road or boon docking, (dry camping - no hookups) you will get no power from your “regular” 120 volt electrical wall outlets. BUT, your following 12 volt
electric items will work: ceiling fans; bath and shower fans; kitchen stove fan; interior lights and water pump. Check your battery status regularly to see how much you have drained your batteries. When the batteries indicate low ratings, solar recharge is one way to go.
Roof top solar panels vs. portable
Roof top can get a huge amount of charging for your batteries. Again, remember this is not for powering the air conditioner or using the microwave. On a negative side - if your campsite is a tree covered area, you will get little solar power.
Portable solar panels, with extension cords, can be moved to a spot where the sun is shining. Just open up your panels, snap on the clamps, or plug into a pre-wired outlet, and you are a GO. The big BUT… the number of charging volts will be far less than a rooftop filled with panels. The positive, the cost of the portable is less than a rooftop setup… no installation costs either.
After more research, and talking with the experts, we went with a Zamp 140 Watt Portable. We purchased it through Colonial Airstream. The cost was reasonable. We liked the portability, the protective case it comes in, the ease of setup, and the control panel.
I ordered the Zamp, and 2 days later it was on my doorstep. Every winter I store our Airstream batteries in our cellar, and charge them with a trickle charger once a month. By coincidence, it was now charging time. So, here in the middle of February in northern Vermont, I hooked up one of my batteries this morning. *I had the solar panel inside my house by a southwest window exposure. With blizzard conditions outside, the battery, that was at a 3/4 charge when I started, was recharged to full by the time I got back from plowing in the morning (about 4 hours). * Not one to wait, battery #2 was the next to go with the same results.
Now we will be waiting until our ski and snowshoe season to end in mid April, and away we go for our annual spring break trip to Florida.
I think the Zamp is going to be the answer for our boon docking and “on the road days”.